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Free as in Freedom: Part Three: Open Source to the Corporate Bazaar

By Adam Engel

Perhaps I was over-zealous in my praise of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in Part One of this article, "Free as in Freedom: GNU/Linux." That would be unfair to many major corporations and the state of the world they've created. Lots of people, especially "successful" Americans, like the world just the way it is.

Oh well. It was a history of "GNU beginnings," the start of a movement that, unlike anything we've thus far seen, said "No!" to the corporate-defined order and created an alternative to corporate rule by copyright, and an operating system that challenged the way certain corporate monopolies have defined our desktops and how we use them (or go directly to jail).

Well, that was the product of another era, which focused on GNU/Linux. Old. Old. All that progressive, anti-corporate stuff is ridiculous, romantic nonsense anyway - at least according to Eric Raymond, author of "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and co-creator (along with various user/collaborators) of the immortal "fetchmail" program. This section is going to focus not on GNU/Linux, but "New Linux," the operating system as it exists today, with GUI desktop environments and all the features of your favorite monopoly software (plus thousands of Unix-like programs, tools, utilities etc.). So, time to wrest that sword-helmet-cuirass combo from Richard Stallman - though he did look awful good in that garb - and place them on the person of Raymond's visionary of the now-and-next-week, the one and only Linus Torvalds.

Also, despite the legitimate concerns of the Free Software Foundation, the operating system will never be called GNU/Linux, just "Linux." This could be for brevity's sake, or because the idea of GNU/Linux was promoted too late, or other reasons only we paranoid progressives - actually, I'm not a progressive; I'm an anarchist, but it's all the same "lefty crowd" (except for Libertarians who manage to 'pass' for conservatives or plain old folks) of whiners and discontents, the kind of folks who fail to appreciate all the great stuff corporate monopolies bring to what's left of life on earth before they finally kill it outright.

I began this article or series of articles because I saw in GNU/Linux an example of a successful rebellion for "the left" to examine as a model. I don't think I was mistaken, though, as with all movements, once the "revolutionaries" have set the ground, the "liberals" take over and try not only to remake the present, but rewrite the past. If I "lionized" Stallman and "romanticized" GNU and the free software movement to create a "founding" myth - oops. Better the real revolutionary Jefferson than the paper and wax model we have today thanks to generations of post-revolutionary revisionists. Stallman and the FSF did what they did, long before my zealous praise, which is why GNU/Linux exists today.

According to Okopnik, the allure of GNU/Linux is rooted in the moral imperative created by the FSF and Stallman, "but is not strictly about it. That's the flexible, fun approach that gets people involved, people who would run away from a purely political approach. Most people would have a great time living in a true democracy - but that does not mean that they all want to become politicians, or involve a significant chunk of their time in running the whole shindig," wrote Okopnik.

Okopnik pointed me to Eric S. Raymond's "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" for a different take on the politics of GNU/Linux, or in this case, "New Linux."

New Myths for New Linux: Linus's Law and the Bazaar

"Linux is subversive. Who would have thought even five years ago (1991) that a world-class operating system could coalesce as if by magic out of part-time hacking by several thousand developers scattered all over the planet, connected only by the tenuous strands of the Internet?" wrote Eric S. Raymond in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" which chronicles the creation of his popular fetchmail program.

Raymond extols the development techniques of Linus Torvalds, main developer of the Linux kernel, as the new paradigm for software development:

"Linus Torvalds's style of development - release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity - came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who'd take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles."

Like Okopnik, he sees Linux users as a particularly self-reliant bunch; many Linux users, he concedes, are also Linux developers. Raymond's essay was written in the late 1990s, before the GNOME and KDE desktop environments increased GNU/Linux's appeal among the general public.

Raymond wrote, "Another strength of the Unix tradition, one that Linux pushes to a happy extreme, is that a lot of users are hackers too. Because source code is available, they can be effective hackers. This can be tremendously useful for shortening debugging time. Given a bit of encouragement, your users will diagnose problems, suggest fixes, and help improve the code far more quickly than you could unaided. Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.

"The power of this effect is easy to underestimate. In fact, pretty well all of us in the open-source world drastically underestimated how well it would scale up with number of users and against system complexity, until Linus Torvalds showed us differently.

"In fact, I think Linus's cleverest and most consequential hack was not the construction of the Linux kernel itself, but rather his invention of the Linux development model. Linus's open development policy was the very opposite of cathedral-building. Linux's Internet archives were burgeoning, multiple distributions were being floated. And all of this was driven by an unheard-of frequency of core system releases.

"Linus was treating his users as co-developers in the most effective possible way:

"Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.

"Linus's innovation wasn't so much in doing quick-turnaround releases incorporating lots of user feedback (something like this had been Unix-world tradition for a long time), but in scaling it up to a level of intensity that matched the complexity of what he was developing. In those early times (around 1991) it wasn't unknown for him to release a new kernel more than once a day! Because he cultivated his base of co-developers and leveraged the Internet for collaboration harder than anyone else, this worked.

"Granted, Linus is a damn fine hacker. How many of us could engineer an entire production-quality operating system kernel from scratch? But Linux didn't represent any awesome conceptual leap forward. Linus is not (or at least, not yet) an innovative genius of design in the way that, say, Richard Stallman or James Gosling (of NeWS and Java) are. Rather, Linus seems to me to be a genius of engineering and implementation, with a sixth sense for avoiding bugs and development dead-ends and a true knack for finding the minimum-effort path from point A to point B. Indeed, the whole design of Linux breathes this quality and mirrors Linus's essentially conservative and simplifying design approach.

"So, if rapid releases and leveraging the Internet medium to the hilt were not accidents but integral parts of Linus's engineering-genius insight into the minimum-effort path, what was he maximizing? What was he cranking out of the machinery?

"Put that way, the question answers itself. Linus was keeping his hacker/users constantly stimulated and rewarded - stimulated by the prospect of having an ego-satisfying piece of the action, rewarded by the sight of constant (even daily) improvement in their work.

"Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.

"Or, less formally, 'Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.' I dub this: 'Linus's Law'."

So, Raymond is replacing the "old heroes" with a new one, Linus. Simple and "essentially conservative" in approach. The very words, "Cathedral" and "Bazaar" were already in use to describe two different development styles; nevertheless, they are loaded like cluster bombs, and Raymond takes advantage of this, implying that the "New Linux" style is the wave of "the now" and the future, while the "old way" of the FSF - he even mentions Stallman and GNU Emacs as relics of the Cathedral - is as obsolete as any old Church.

"Cathedral versus Bazaar"

Raymond wrote, "In Linus's Law, I think, lies the core difference underlying the cathedral-builder and bazaar styles. In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you've winkled them all out. Thus the long release intervals, and the inevitable disappointment when long-awaited releases are not perfect... In the bazaar view, on the other hand, you assume that bugs are generally shallow phenomena - or, at least, that they turn shallow pretty quickly when exposed to a thousand eager co-developers pounding on every single new release. Accordingly you release often in order to get more corrections, and as a beneficial side effect you have less to lose if an occasional botch gets out the door... And that's it. That's enough. If 'Linus's Law' is false, then any system as complex as the Linux kernel, being hacked over by as many hands as the that kernel was, should at some point have collapsed under the weight of unforeseen bad interactions and undiscovered 'deep' bugs. If it's true, on the other hand, it is sufficient to explain Linux's relative lack of bugginess and its continuous uptimes spanning months or even years."

I wrote to Stallman that, according to my reading of "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" Raymond, who used to develop GNU software, seemed to classify the GNU/FSF method of development as "Cathedral" style as opposed to the "Bazaar" style used by himself and Linus Torvalds.

Stallman responded:

"Is he still saying this? I thought he had stopped... It is not true. There is no single GNU/FSF development method, since each package maintainer can handle this as he likes. In fact, some GNU packages tried the Bazaar model before ESR did. ... The fact is that before the Bazaar model, the Cathedral model was the only one. We used it, ESR used it, and everyone used it... I think ESR tried to associate that model with GNU so as to make us look bad. He does not like our philosophy, so he hoped that by making us look bad, he can reduce our influence. However, I told him this was not true, and I thought he had taken it out. Hence my question about whether he is still saying this."

Raymond went on to point out that the old corporate model of top-down design no longer applied, that developers were more apt to create great software if they were allowed to have fun while doing so, enjoy their work as opposed to living a "Dilbert" nightmare in a cubicle; nonetheless, this applies to the corporation. Raymond's vision of the future is one of the successful corporate software product.

When the first version of "The Cathedral and The Bazaar" was published in 1997, Netscape released its code as "open-source." Exactly as Stallman had warned, "open source" was a corporate methodology of co-opting the free software movement and sucking free software into its own code. Raymond's unctuous epilog to "The Cathedral and the Bazaar:"

Epilog: Netscape Embraces the Bazaar
It's a strange feeling to realize you're helping make history...  On
January 22 1998, approximately seven months after I first published The
Cathedral and the Bazaar, Netscape Communications, Inc. announced it would
give away the source for Netscape Communicator. I had had no clue this was
going to happen before the day of the announcement.

"Eric Hahn, executive vice president and chief technology officer at
Netscape, emailed me shortly afterwards as follows: ``On behalf of everyone
at Netscape, I want to thank you for helping us get to this point in the
first place. Your thinking and writings were fundamental inspirations to
our decision.''

"The following week I flew out to Silicon Valley at Netscape's invitation
for a day-long strategy conference (on 4 Feb 1998) with some of their top
executives and technical people. We designed Netscape's source-release
strategy and license together.

"A few days later I wrote the following:

"Netscape is about to provide us with a large-scale, real-world test of the
bazaar model in the commercial world. The open-source culture now faces a
danger; if Netscape's execution doesn't work, the open-source concept may
be so discredited that the commercial world won't touch it again for
another decade.

"On the other hand, this is also a spectacular opportunity. Initial
reaction to the move on Wall Street and elsewhere has been cautiously
positive. We're being given a chance to prove ourselves, too. If Netscape
regains substantial market share through this move, it just may set off a
long-overdue revolution in the software industry. 

So, unlike GNU and the FSF "making history" by turning the corporate model on its head and inventing a successful alternative, Raymond "made history" by eliciting positive reactions on Wall Street. Raymond had done well. His work received an A+ from his market masters.

Stallman was absolutely right when he warned that the greatest threat to the movement he and others created would come from within, under the guise of "Open Source":

The largest division in the community is between people who appreciate free
software as a social and ethical issue and consider proprietary software a
social problem (supporters of the free software movement), and those who
cite only practical benefits and present free software only as an efficient
development model (the open source movement). This disagreement is not just
a matter of names - it is a matter of differing basic values.  It is
essential for the community to see and think about this disagreement.  The
names 'free software' and 'open source' are the banners of the two
positions. See 'Why Free Software Is Better Than Open Source'. The 
disagreement over values partially aligns with the amount of attention
people pay to the GNU Project's role in our community. People who value
freedom are more likely to call the system "GNU/Linux", and people who
learn that the system is "GNU/Linux" are more likely to pay attention to
our philosophical arguments for freedom and community (which is why the
choice of name for the system makes a real difference for society).
However, the disagreement would probably exist even if everyone knew the
system's real origin and its proper name, because the issue is a real one.
It can only go away if we who value freedom either persuade everyone (which
won't be easy) or are defeated entirely (let's hope not).

A subsequent email interview indicates that Raymond would most certainly not be upset if the free software movement and the FSF were "defeated entirely."

According to Okopnik, "the NSA, the DOD, NASA, NWS, and many other government agencies are committed to Linux (the DOD, in particular, had actually made and then cancelled a multimillion dollar contract with Microsoft, based on the latter being unable to meet their performance promises.) Sun, IBM, Oracle, Novell, and many other companies are aligning behind it; hardware manufacturers are now either including Linux drivers or are making them available on their sites."

So it is not taking a great leap to presume that GNU/Linux, specifically, the "New Linux," may be on its way to becoming a "proprietary open source" system. That is, the code will be open, but someone will own it. The software giant, Novell, bought the GNU/Linux distributor, SuSE, in December of 2004. We will see how this "open source" buyout effects the freedom of users of SuSE's distribution of GNU/Linux.

Seen in this light, the "bazaar" model is not so beneficial to its users, merely a smart business move. Any corporation that does not go open source will lose, for they'd be missing out on a huge free development pool. Then again, how long would that last? Would user/developers submit bug reports and fixes and improvement hacks to a company that will incorporate the fixes into their proprietary software, then charge licensing fees (one to a customer, like the $129 Macintosh Panther "upgrade") to those same user/developers despite providing this invaluable service? Why bother hiring professional programmers at all? Perhaps they'd pay small rewards for individual fixes and hacks sent in by user/developers.

But according to Raymond, such questions are not worth asking, much less answering, and merely show how little "progressives" understand the open source movement (I never should have identified myself as a "progressive"; sounds too namby-pamby, like "liberal"; I should have described the magazines I read and write for as anarcho-libertarian-market-conservative. Then again, are readers of such magazines and web sites as "The Progressive" and "The Progressive Review" non-persons? Is it somehow more legitimate to identify oneself as a "conservative"? Conserve what? Body bags in Iraq? Anyway, if "Progressive" is such a powerful word, imagine what dark emotions are stirred by the GNU/ prefix to GNU/Linux...)

I wrote to Raymond, "The main point of this two part article is to call attention to the fact that while "progressives" have been in-fighting and 'lesser-eviling,' an entire movement has evolved to challenge corporate control of the desk top - and it's 'winning.' Why do you think this has gone "unrecognized" by "progressives" in the U.S.? This is a major demonstration of the power of community over the corporation."

He replied, "Your question answers itself. Adopting the self-description "progressive" is, among other things, a way of announcing 'I am so blinded by a Marxist-derived fear and hatred of markets that I cannot reason about anything related to economics without making ludicrous errors!' ... The open-source movement and corporations get along well because both are fundamentally about the same thing - voluntary cooperation in markets. The corporate market is primarily monetized and the open-source one primarily non-monetized, but that is an unimportant detail... But for 'progressives' to really understand why it is an unimportant detail they would have to abandon their most cherished myth, of the market as an exploitation machine run by malevolent plutocrats. I expect them to get clear about this about the same time that we start seeing competent biology from Creationists or competent geography from Flat-Earthers. "

So, corporations are about "voluntary cooperation in markets", and the monetization of corporations is a "minor detail". I didn't know rampant corporatization of all business, the destruction of real competitive arenas and individually-owned shops by monopolies, and all the rest of that government subsidized corporate socialism had anything to do with markets in which people actually exchange goods and services, as opposed to selling their lifetimes to transnational behemoths. I suppose we "progressives" - something I never identified myself as, actually - have so much to learn, but since we obviously all think alike, the knowledge such people as Raymond could impart will spread among us like a virus. And who said anything about Marxism? Is one always either a "conservative" or a "Marxist?"

I wrote, "The first part of this article is about the history of GNU/Linux, Stallman and the GNU programmers (including yourself), the FSF, "copyleft", the how and the why of the free software movement. Part Two is about "New Linux" - the immense growth in distribution, diversity and user-friendly interfaces - supported hardware drivers, HOWTOs and other documentation, distribution-specific easy-install GUI's for beginners. First of all, what is your opinion on the insistence of certain members of the free software community to use the term GNU/Linux at all times, correcting the majority who refers to the OS, probably because it's just easier, as "Linux?"

Raymond replied, "Insistence on the "GNU/Linux" label is political move by people who want to preserve and extend the reputation of the FSF. Myself, I agree with Linus Torvalds that this is a ridiculous form of special pleading - anybody who takes their argument seriously should really honor *all* the historical contributors and call it "GNU/X/Unix/Linux", or "GNU/X/BSD/Unix/Linux", or even "GNU/X/BSD/Unix/Multics/Linux'."

Why not Linucks? Or Lynn Ucks? What's in a name? Look at all us flat-earth "progressives" lumped together like the coal Santa reserves for the unwashed stockings of incorrigible brats.

I wrote, "Do you think that by becoming more user-friendly, embracing a larger user base in an attempt appeal to "average users" who just want word-processor, email and a browser (which Linux offers via KDE and GNOME, as well as Mozilla and others), Linux is "compromising" its position as a free operating system - free as in speech, not beer etc., losing it's 'edge?'

Raymond responded, "This question only makes sense within a world-view that equates being 'edgy' or 'cool' with a sort of surly oppositionism. Thank you, I would much rather co-opt the bourgeoisie and succeed in my revolution than sneer at them and fail."

Another "misunderstanding." I meant creative edge. I've never been into "cool" - or the bourgeoisie, much less the possibility of goading them into "revolution." But of course, since his entire world view shifted into package mode and tarred and gzipped me upon mention of the word "progressive" (I knew I should have just admitted I'm a burn-down-the-house anarchist; I would have used the word "leftist" but that particular term scares such people, who fear of failing the bourgeoisie even as they dream of leading bourgeois revolutions (when was the last time anyone used that old word, " bourgeoisie," anyway? Freshman Sociology?), to death.

I wrote, "GNU and the FSF are all about free software. No compromise. While this served to create a 'revolution,' Linux is now past the revolutionary stage. In "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" you speak only about "open source," not "free software." What's the difference, according to you? "

Raymond replied, "The software, the technology, the developers, and even the licenses are essentially the same. The only thing that differs is the attitude and the propaganda - how the results are marketed to the rest of the world... Early versions of CatB did in fact refer to 'free software'. That was before a bunch of us got together in early 1998 to invent a label that would be less likely to make businessmen and journalists write us off as Communistic flake cases... We promulgated the label 'open source' as a banner for a new style of argument - one which co-opts people with real-world results rather than cramming an ideology down their throats. Six years later, I think we can say this move was pretty successful."

So. "A bunch of us" got together and decided to create a terminology that would be used by the rest of the world, something that wouldn't offend the businessmen and mainstream journalists who serve "the rest of us" so well. Supported by corporate sponsors and the media they control, it "was pretty successful." This would be funny, almost corny, if the events of the past four years hadn't put the corporatization of humanity under the New World Order in stark, murderous perspective. So those who disagree with the corporate order are "communist flake cases." Well, at least we're not terrorists.

I wrote, "Can Linux maintain the freedom and community/volunteer attitude that inspired so many user/programmers to spend many unpaid hours developing and perfecting the system and its applications? Fetchmail is a perfect example of a user/programmer devoting enormous amounts of time to a project simply because it was a "good idea," and like most good ideas, worth creating. It belonged in the world, but it wasn't, I assume, requested by the Division Manager of Linux Central..."

Raymond wrote, "No, it wasn't. As you say, fetchmail was a triumph of people volunteering on a good idea - there is no Division Manager, anywhere...
I'm always puzzled by questions of the form 'Can Linux keep this up?' They seem to proceed from an assumption that large-scale voluntary cooperation is somehow fragile and exceptional, in danger of being overwhelmed at any second by malevolent forces that are far more powerful... This assumption is deeply wrong - voluntary cooperation in a win-win mode is the rule in 99.95% of human interactions, otherwise the streets would run with blood. Trade in the market, ordinary social communication, and even our use of language with each other are all systems of voluntary cooperation far more elaborate than the open-source movement. Yet *those* we take for granted and do not even register as cooperation, persisting despite the evidence of our own daily experience in the belief the "natural" behavior of human beings is a sort of dog-eat-dog Hobbesian strife within which open source is inevitably doomed. It's absurd when you think about it."

In case Raymond hadn't noticed, many, many streets of the world, including Wall Street if one includes 9/11, are running with blood. But I agree with the sentence, "It is absurd". First of all, the Hobbesian definition of humanity came out of nowhere. I didn't mention it. Surely it was on this man's mind. Secondly, the excitement, the "edge" I was referring to came out of a community-based free operating system that programmer/users can participate in creating. A sense of participation and power over one's own destiny. An alternative to Microsoft not merely because "it's there" but because of the philosophy behind it. I wonder how many programmers volunteer to spend hours fixing bugs in Microsoft's code. Or if the "bazaar" mentality will be able to sustain itself under a "proprietary Linux."

I wrote, "The FSF, and others in the free software movement, are adamant about keeping free software free to the extent that they would have boycotted KDE if the Qt development tools hadn't been released as free software. If a proprietary application was developed that would accelerate the growth and development of Linux to the point where Windows users would jump ship and flock to Linux in droves, but the owner of the proprietary app would have a degree of control (more than most at any rate) over Linux, would you support this?"

Raymond replied, "No, I wouldn't. But my reasons for rejecting it would be different in flavor than the FSF's. They would utter moralistic arguments about the goodness of sharing and the evil of secrecy. I would point out that proprietary control leads to bad engineering and bad outcomes, appealing to the self-interest of users rather than moral principle."

Again, it's good to see strong, pragmatic minds fighting the urge toward sharing and transparency. Such pragmatic minds would surely have pointed out the Bush Administration's lying its way to the destruction of 100,000 Iraqis not because it was "wrong," just not cost effective.

I wrote, "The development of KDE and GNOME, has resulted in a "New Linux." It's not just for "hackers" anymore. The "average user" can now use a word processor/email/browser combo and leave the PC without having to deal with the command-line or the "iceberg" beneath the GUI tip he/she is exposed to. If the purpose of Linux (is there a "purpose"?) is to provide an alternative to Windows/Apple etc., then that purpose is served: users have a choice; they don't have to accept Windows XP pre-loaded on their new desktop. Beyond that, how would you define "progress" or "success" as far as Linux is concerned. There are people who get caught up in the latest benchmark tests pitting Linux against Windows or Solaris, as if it were a sporting event. Once you get into that, Linux becomes just another corporate-sponsored OS. Do you think it will grow along its own path to provide a genuine change in "paradigms," in the way people relate to the software that powers their machines, or do you see it becoming merely another commercial alternative to what's out there? (This gets back to the 'open source' question: is 'open source,' as opposed to 'free' a way of integrating Linux into the corporate software business?).

Raymond responded, "Whenever I see questions like this, I am reminded of an anecdote about Charles Babbage, the Victorian pioneer of computing. He was once asked "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" Like Mr. Babbage, I find myself 'not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.'

Raymond wrote, "The confusion gets really thick in the third paragraph. Among its implicit assumptions appear to be the following:

"(1) Benchmark-comparing a piece of software X with commercial software products Y and Z implies that X is 'corporate-sponsored'.

"(2) Corporate sponsorship is like having some sort of case of metaphysical cooties that negates the real value of what Linux programmers have done.

Raymond wrote, "These are nonsense individually, and add up to nonsense on stilts. You then go on in the fourth paragraph with an assumption that:

"(3) The descriptions 'changes the way people relate to their machines' and 'just another commercial alternative' are mutually exclusive.

"This is also nonsense. Consider as a very obvious example the way that the cell-phone, which is 'just another commercial alternative' to land-lines, has radically changed the way people relate to handsets - to the extent that they're now treated as fashion accessories," wrote Raymond.

Well, first of all, I hate cell phones. They're noisy, ubiquitous, and fry your brain. Fashion accessories are most certainly "bourgeois". Still, I don't understand the "confusion" my questions provoked. The original rebellious spirit of GNU/Linux that set the process of creating a free alternative to Mac and Windows is, as Raymond demonstrates, being set aside for fidelity to "Linux" for its own sake. Like America's still supposed to be the "republic" it was, or was supposed to be, cause we have a theme song, elections and a flag. Thus, when "Linux" advocates "root" for Linux to "beat" Microsoft in a test meant to determine the winner of a government defense contract, support of Linux as anything but "just another OS" is meaningless. In such a scenario, why not Microsoft? Or Sun? Or Univax? If "success" means Linux has reached the point at which the DOD wants it to create weapons of destruction, it's no better or worse than Microsoft. Just another corporation competing for military (tax-payer) dollars. That's not a valid question?

Raymond wrote, "Your confusion appears to be a manifestation of progressives' general inability to understand open-source software except through a haze of romantic idealism that distorts it out of all recognition."

Again, I don't see where this haze of romantic idealism exhibits itself anywhere but in Raymond's tepid imagination - no idealistic revolutions for that staid worker-bee. Nevertheless, in the time spent trying to be clever and wry, he could have just answered my question, which he did at last do in a sentence, contradicting himself, for if my question was so over-the-top confusing, how was he able to answer it at all?

Raymond wrote, "Having said that, I will now answer your question: the 'success' of open source is defined by the extent to which it gives software users and software developers more choices. "

What? Isn't that - ? Oh, well. Never mind. I thought GNU/Linux was supposed to be anarchic, rebellious and fun, not... creepy.

I'm glad Raymond was able to diffuse his pent-up frustrations at being on the supply-side of a life-destroying world-order before "answering" my question. It probably made him feel even better than a good half-hour on the Stair-Master. I have a feeling that Raymond was just messing around, anyway. I quoted this interchange verbatim because, in 18 years of journalism, this was the nastiest, most mean-spirited, arrogant, and ultimately goofy one I've seen ("communist flake cases?" What 1950s-era FBI comic book did he get that one from? Communist? Because I said I write for progressive 'zines? Or maybe because I mentioned the FSF? Are they considered "communists" now, fifteen years after the Cold War?). Perhaps he figured that just in case this article is picked up by an "important" mainstream publication, it was a chance to score points with his corporate/bourgeois masters. Does Netscape still exist? Maybe there's someone there he wants to impress.

Regardless, his contempt for any questioning of his corporate agenda for GNU/Linux (he is, after all, on the "winning" side), his dismissal of all that came before him, as if GNU and the hundreds (thousands?) who worked on it were just "flaking around" until Linus Torvalds came out with his kernel in 1991, and his crude, bullying remarks to a stranger asking valid questions, whether meant as a spoof or not, demand attention. It demands a re-reading of the documentation on gnu.org and fsf.org to remind us exactly how the operating system Raymond works with - I wonder how successful fetchmail would have been had Raymond broached the idea of a new free consumer good during a board meeting of SUN or HP? - began, and why.

Especially now. Especially with most of humanity fighting for existence against a New World Order (not unlike a 'New Linux," if such developers as Raymond have their way) that literally puts the profit of a minority against the well-being, perhaps even survival of its own species. And let's not forget about Iraq and the corporations who are benefitting from what we've done there. Perhaps it's the naive "progressive" in me, but somehow I associate the high-tech wasting of 100,000 lives, another fixed election based in part on proprietary software, and all sorts of proprietary nastiness - for what is the U.S. government, now, but a proprietary system? - with "a bunch of us" creating a name for corporate-friendly, "open source" software that won't - heaven forbid - offend CNN or Time Magazine.

Stallman was right. It isn't a question of this or that operating system succeeding in the marketplace - not even a marketplace, a Windows dominion, though if Okopnik's facts on other countries developing Linux are correct, this may change. But again, if the power of GNU/Linux is harnessed by the DOD to create yet smarter weapons of mass destruction, who needs it?

As Stallman wrote (http://www.gnu.org): "How will we respond to the next tempting non-free library? Will the whole community understand the need to stay out of the trap? Or will many of us give up freedom for convenience, and produce a major problem? Our future depends on our philosophy."

Or, as Ben Okopnik wrote, "We need our radicals. They're ugly, scruffy, pushy, aggressive, loud, and unfit for normal humans to associate with - but, O Ghod do we need them! They sacrifice themselves on the altar of whatever the hell their passion may be; they give up their right to be seen as "normal", and make of themselves targets at which the majority of society will fling rocks and garbage - and we, the human race, get to move ahead just another tiny notch for each one of them. Granted, there are radicals on either side of the fence, and lots of different fences, but the total vector of these little steps *is* in the direction of progress; another pragmatic belief of mine, and although I won't go into the philosophical ramifications of it, it can be summed up as "'good' is just another way of saying 'pro-survival'."

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[BIO] Adam Engel has published poetry, fiction and essays in such magazines and periodicals as Counter Punch, Dissident Voice, Online Journal, Strike-the-Root, LewRockwell.com, The New York Art Review, The Concord Journal, The Middlesex News, Accent, The Littleton Review, Ark, Smart Shoes, The Beacon, Literal Latte, Artemis, The Lummox Journal, Fearless, POESY, The Half Moon Review, Art:Mag, Chronogram, Gnome and others.

Adam Engel's first book of poetry, Oil and Water, was published by Maximum Capacity Press in 2001. His novel, Topiary, will be published by Dandelion Books in the Spring of 2005.

He has worked as a journalist, screenwriter, executive speechwriter, systems administrator, and editorial consultant, and has taught writing at New York University, Touro College and the Gotham Writer's Workshop in New York City.

Copyright © 2005, Adam Engel. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 112 of Linux Gazette, March 2005

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